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The 40 best crime movies

31. Memento (2000)

Style over content is of no concern to Memento when they're both one in the same. Christopher Nolan takes a standard whodunit outline - a man seeking revenge - unravelling it through a twisted narrative device that betrays the protagonist along with the audience.

The short-term amnesia suffered by Guy Pearce's Leonard Shelby allows for some duplicitous activities to go down, particularly by the only people he believes he can trust. Out to solve the mystery of his wife's murder, he Polaroids everything and inks his body with clues. Each time he uncovers one - he gets a new tattoo.

As the whole story is told backwards we already know that he reaches a resolution. Seeing as his journey is studded with such back-stabbing and heartache -- it's a jaw-dropper when the truth is revealed.

30. Heavenly Creatures (1994)

In between his splatterfests and epic fantasies, Peter Jackson tackled the infamous murder case surrounding the death of Honorah Parker at the hands of her daughter Pauline and best friend Juliet Hulme (who would later find fame as crime author Anne Perry).

It's easily recognisable as a Jackson film. Dips into the girls' shared fantasy world - here a precursor to psychosis - sparkle and shine, showing the two teens what life could really be like if they were free. Played to perfection by Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, the sheer audacity of their crime is only matched by how heart-breaking it is to watch them senselessly murder Parker's mother. Which, was in their words, so brilliantly clever.

29. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

His first stint behind the lens saw Ben Affleck deliver a tense and twisting take on Dennis Lehane's source novel. The case of two Bostonian detectives tracking down a kidnapped four-year old seems straightforward enough, with Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan cast against type the first clue that this isn't your typical crime thriller.

Affleck's confident, well-paced direction stems from the script which he co-wrote with Aaron Stockard, loaded with macabre humour that serve to bolster the otherwise sinister plottings of Boston's criminal class. The real highlight here is Casey Affleck's conflicted turn as the haunted cop, who walks the line between justice and righteousness to stunning effect.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Frequently cited by Roger Ebert as one of his favourite films, The Maltese Falcon is credited with kickstarting the true beginning of the film noir movement. If it's sombre ending is any indicator -- then that's a fair assessment.

Humphrey Bogart stars as charming private eye Sam Spade who begins investigating a missing persons case on behalf of Mary Astor's Bridget O'Shaughnessy, and ends up chasing down a series of rogues in pursuit of a jewel-encrusted falcon.

It marked the directorial debut of legendary helmer John Huston who cajoled a masterpiece from his very small budget. Not only that, he had to truly impress Warner execs who were bankrolling the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel in ten years. Huston delivered the goods.

27. The Usual Suspects (1995)

The second film of 1995 starring Kevin Spacey as a hobbling crook with a secret. The Usual Suspects is a masterclass in underhand plotting and misdirection, from its shadowy opening sequence right up until the last, jaw-dropping twist. Which we'll not give away here.

Bryan Singer took his cues from Christopher McQuarrie's meticulous screenplay, a piece of art in itself, adding his own visual spin on the exhausted mystery genre that's now considered a contemporary classic.

While much is made of the final reel 180 - it *is* skilfully executed - it's the rich mythology surrounding the crew (Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak and Stephen Baldwin) and the kingpin they fear Keyzer Soze that deserves the praise. Even without the ending, it's still one helluva watch.

26. 10 Rillington Place (1971)

Richard Attenborough is truly chilling as the notorious murderer John Christie in Richard Fleischer's docu-drama based on the real-life killings that took place in his terraced abode at 10 Rillington Place. The actor later confessed his initial reluctance to take the part, which swiftly changed when he realised the important historical repercussions of Christie's case: an expose on the dangers of capital punishment.

Christie's motivations for the butchering of eight women is never explained, nor the cavalier manner with which he coerces tenant Tim Evans (John Hurt) to engage his murderous plan. Making it that much creepier.

25. Night Moves (1975)

Namedrop Arthur Penn and his commercial success Bonnie and Clyde may crop up in conversation, yet one of the filmmaker's most riveting pieces of cinema is the little-seen 1975 film Night Moves. Screenwriter Alan Sharp raids the noir back catalogue for recognisable tropes to recycle, innovating most of them through some of the best dialogue to feature in a seventies crime movie.

As Detective Harry Moseby, Gene Hackman fulfils the 'everyman' role as a former football player who turns his hand to private investigations. His latest case in the humid swamps of the Florida Keys finds him hunting down a missing teenager, only to become confused by the events unfolding around him by relying upon old-school investigative techniques.

Hackman's most understated performance is made all the more enjoyable by his co-star Jennifer Warren, who gives as good as she gets.

24. Let Him Have It (1991)

Starring a young Christopher Eccleston, directed by Peter Medak and written by Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Let Him Have It traces the journey of Derek Bentley from bored youth to wanted man in a harrowing dramatisation of England's most debated miscarriage of justice.

The incident that saw Bentley hanged for murder is reconstructed in painstaking detail, as the lad falls in with a bad crowd and winds up aiding them in a botched burglary. His accomplice Chris shoots and kills a police officer, but as a minor avoids the death penalty.

The title refers to the phrase that led to Bentley's death sentence. "Let him have it, Chris," were the ambigous words uttered that the court took as an assignation of guilt. Eccleston's performance as lawyers harangue him on the stand proof that in this retelling, the 19-year old meant no such thing.

23. Insomnia (2002)

A sharply-written remake of the Norwegian thriller stars Al Pacino as LAPD Detective Will Dormer called to the isolated Alaskan backwaters to investigate a murder. As Christopher Nolan's second feature Insomnia pulls away from his heavily-stylised visual signature, and instead focuses its efforts on strong characters and dark themes. The Alaskan environment does however, allow for a certain amount of symbolism. The inescapable sunlight offering no respite from its intrusive glare; an obvious reflection of Dormer's fate awaiting him back in LA.

Remaining somewhat loyal to the original, the film retains its familiar cat-and-mouse plotting, but never has the chase been so seductive.

22. In Cold Blood (1967)

Richard Brooks' tendency to demand 40 takes from his actors earned him a reputation as a relentless filmmaker, whose determination to get the perfect shot never tired. While his actors would probably disagree, Brooks behaviour paid off with his truly stern adaptation of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

His unwavering commitment added to the film's edgy, brash take on the story of two young drifters who massacred a Kansas family on their farm. Robert Blake as Perry Smith gives the performance of a lifetime, brought to gritty life by the focused lensing of cinematographer Conrad Hall. A realistic feat achieved in part by Brooks' insistence that the entire movie be shot in the very same house in which the real murders occurred.

Gem Seddon
Gem is GR+'s west coast entertainment news reporter. She’s a bit obsessed with all things Aliens and Terminator.